Church planters are perhaps uniquely wired for this strange season that requires flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to do things differently. In these days that demand adaptability, church planters have the advantage, because we’re adaptable by nature. Every week we flip cafeterias or middle schools into worship centers and nurseries. We thrive in non-traditional environments.
The next phase of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic will require us to not only adapt, but to also ask good questions. Again, this is something we do regularly. Planters constantly ask questions that help us clarify and strengthen our ministry strategies and refine our systems. Now, we must ask questions regarding the safe return to worship gatherings.
I’ve had the privilege of facilitating discussions about reopening with dozens of church planters. The most valuable results have not been statements of what should be done, but the kinds of questions we should be asking.
Church planter, you were built for this. Your adaptable nature gives you an advantage in these times that demand flexibility.
Regardless of which adaptations we settle on for our individual contexts, we must commit to doing both what is legal—assuming legal restrictions are temporary and for preserving public health, not curtailing religion freedom—and what is loving. If it’s not legal and loving, then we shouldn’t do it. But when we’re ready to reopen worship gatherings, we must navigate concerns regarding our facilities. Here are a few questions to ask before you reopen your church plants.
Are your people ready to return to physical gatherings?
Most church planters I’ve spoken with intend to survey their people to gauge their comfort level regarding physical gatherings. This is a critical step for accurate planning. Please don’t subtly attempt to influence how your people will respond with overly optimistic or pessimistic language. You want real answers.
How will you arrange your seating?
Church planters are accustomed to maximizing seating capacity; now we must actively work to minimize seating. In short, you must reduce the length of your rows, skip at least every other row, and likely require members to “pre-register” for a service to ensure you have enough seating.
How will you control traffic flow?
It’s imperative that you create clear pathways to avoid congestion in high-traffic portions of your facility. To maintain proper social distancing, you must consider how people will enter and exit your facility in a way that reduces physical interaction.
How will you handle children’s ministry?
This is one of the most difficult aspects of reopening. No matter how you approach children’s ministry, someone will disagree. Thus, it’s wise to follow the guidance of your area’s medical community. In places where daycare centers will be open, you should adopt (at minimum) the safety standards established by health officials for children in daycare. However, if your facility can accommodate it, this would be a season to consider some level of family-integrated worship.
Do you have the right safety supplies?
Some suggested supplies for any reopening would be touch-free thermometers for your general entrance. Also, it would be advisable to have contactless hand sanitizer stations as well as a hygiene station with disposable gloves and masks. Moreover, if offering multiple services, consider purchasing a disinfecting fogger to clean chairs and high-traffic areas between services. Consult with your local health department to receive suggested supplies tailored to your context. Please note that these supplies are in high demand, their prices are inflated because of scarcity, and they’re often backordered.
What will you need to change in your worship service?
We’ve adapted worship services to online formats; our physical services will need to be adapted as well. Sermons should be shorter, because small children will likely be in the service. Communion must be modified for safety. Consider purchasing pre-packaged, individual serving communion cups that include the bread and juice in each cup. Also, purchase or construct offering boxes that remain stationary to avoid passing a plate around.
How will you accommodate high-risk demographics?
Some people need to avoid worship gatherings and small groups. Therefore, you should continue providing a livestream service and allowing members of small groups to participate virtually. It’s important for all members—especially high-risk ones—not to feel pressured to be present. Give them the freedom to stay home.
It’s important for all members—especially high-risk ones—not to feel pressured to be present. Give them the freedom to stay home.
How will you close?
Many experts predict a second wave of infections this fall. Prepare now for how you will close again if the time comes. Additionally, if someone attends a service and shortly thereafter tests positive for the coronavirus, be prepared to inform everyone at the service and potentially refrain from meeting for a few weeks. In short, you must be ready to close at a moment’s notice.
Church planter, you were built for this. Your adaptable nature gives you an advantage in these times that demand flexibility. Still, you must exercise great humility as you discern next steps for your church. We’re not experts on infectious disease transmission; we’re missionaries. Defer to the wisdom of medical experts as you strategize how to accomplish the mission. Continue to be adaptable, ask good questions, and don’t lose heart.